19.12.2014 23 °C
Today was another amazing day but it a very different way versus yesterday. Today we saw the another side of the Cape Town and the South African story. Up to today our exposure to the area as evidenced by this blog was the plush beautiful European style city with its breathtaking scenery, great wine (I have yet to have a bad glass and I am averaging 4-5 glasses a day) and fantastic culinary experiences.
Our guide for the da, Andelai, picked us up and started his "presentation" on the history of the area. It was fascinating, enlightening and embarrassing at how little I knew about the history of this country. South Africa has an amazing history with some of the oldest human fossils in the world found within its borders. The country has 11 different official languages reflecting its pluralistic make-up. Cape Town was "settled" as Dutch colony as a stopping point for the ships on their way to India to trade for spices. The administration of Cape Town was taken over by the British (no conflict because the Dutch didn't want a fight in Europe so they mostly quietly let the British take over). In 1931 the British handed over administration (granted sovereignty) and in 1948 the National Party was elected to power.
It was in 1948 that apartheid or legally institutionalized segregation occurred. While I knew of apartheid and Nelson Mandela I will fully admit to being fully ignorant on the details. First, apartheid means apart (that should have been obvious but wasn't). And it was not just the Blacks and Whites that were segregated but the Whites, Blacks, Coloureds, and the Cape Malay or Indians. Entire neighbourhoods were bulldozed and people were relocated to "Townships" by their ethnicity. While a horrible and sad part of the history we heard several times today not to feel sad for the people or pity the poverty but to look at the triumphs that occurred in the progress that has been made. Our guide in the Langa Township which still includes a significant shanty (10,000 people) town said "dwell too much on the past and the past will dwell on you." He was proud to show us the Hostels, whereby individuals could rent a room with a bed and share a common area for 50 Rand per month (5 dollars), the family Hostels (had individual kitchen, bathroom and bedroom all together the size of my living room) which rent for 350 Rand per month (70 dollars) and the "Bel Aire" homes (maybe 750 square feet) which are privately owned and sell for 36-65,000 dollars depending on style.
After spending the morning reflecting on the past and seeing firsthand the progress and the work still be done we ventured back to the Cape Town waterfront and reflected on the stark differences in Cape Town neighbourhoods and circumstances. Following a splendid seafood lunch (I have eaten seafood exclusively since arriving) we boarded our ferry to Robben Island, home of Nelson Mandela for 18 years of his 27 years of imprisonment. While Robben Island has a long history (military outpost, home for lepers, insane asylum, criminal prison) it is most notable for being a political prison starting in 1964.
The most profound part of the day was our guide through the maximum security area of the prison, a man who was a former prisoner, who had spent 5 years at Robben Island. I can't help but think what a remarkable person it takes to be stripped of their freedoms for a belief for 5 years only to return and show people the travesties of what occurred to him and not be bitter but in a strange way proud of what they accomplished. I think that attitude is what I took away from today the most. No one felt angry or bitter or held resentment, they are all just working towards a better tomorrow. There are undertones that the change is taking longer than people had hoped (and some in the shanties protest still against the government) but most seem proud of the progress that has been made.
A great day for some reflection and as Andelai so eloquently stated some time spent in the "University of Life".
Until next time,
G^2 & 2 Greenalls